BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Some Baltimore firefighters warned response times to emergency calls are increasing with two of the city’s 17 truck companies out of service for repairs.
Unions representing firefighters and fire officers said the response times are still within national standards, but the out-of-service trucks are causing the department to shift equipment from station to station—affecting widespread parts of Baltimore.
The firefighters’ union described it as “playing Russian roulette.”
“You can’t sit there and tell the public that every second counts in an emergency but then turn around and deny—when you’re missing a fire truck here and a fire truck there—that the response times are affected because they are,” said Dickie Altieri, president of IAFF Local 734, the union representing firefighters. “Even if it’s 30 seconds or a minute, it’s still being affected.”
The fire department declined an interview request with WJZ.
“We’re just trying to get the problem rectified as soon as possible,” said fire officers’ union president Stephen Horchar, Jr.
The unions said the truck company near Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Boulevard in Northwest Baltimore has been out of service since December 24th.
The truck company stationed in the 5500 block of Reisterstown Road went down on New Year’s Eve.
The unions said another truck was pulled from the Bush Street station in Pigtown to help fill the gap.
Christina Spence lives near that station and described it as “alarming” and “sad.”
She said she would keep a closer eye on vulnerable neighbors.
Several people in the Ashburton neighborhood also told WJZ they were concerned.
While the fire department declined to answer questions, it did issue a statement saying operations were not impacted.
“There are currently units that are out of service. However, that does not impede our ability to provide emergency services to the citizens of Baltimore City in the event there are emergencies. When there is a fire engine or fire truck out of service, we employ our reserve units. If reserve units are not available, then we have Suppression Support Units and additional medic units available to provide services,” said the fire department’s Blair Skinner. “The last thing we would want is for our community to be alarmed or doubt our ability to save them. We’re an organization that provides emergency services every day—and we are more than prepared and well equipped to do so.”
The unions said the city has two new fire trucks but it would take time to train firefighters to use them and get the trucks online. They said Mayor Pugh promised them a third truck in the coming year, but they’re concerned with the immediate equipment shortage.
The firefighters’ union said a truck had to be dispatched from Fells Point Wednesday night to cover a call 23 minutes away in West Baltimore.
They also posted pictures of one of the Special Support Unit SUVs, which they said was being used as a stopgap replacement for the large fire trucks that are undergoing repairs.